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Overused Sci Fi Plot Devices
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Section III: Overused Story Events and Plot Devices

  1. Discussions, ending with a joke, about how bureaucracies are the same everywhere in the galaxy.
  2. The most intelligent course of action is precluded by orders from a high-ranking ignoramus, on the basis of a transparently flawed rationale.
  3. Technological malfunction as a plot device.
  4. The timer count-down on the Bad Guy Device being stopped by the hero with bare seconds left.
  5. Alien contact is perceived or regarded as a spiritual/quasi-religious experience.
  6. Aliens who are vastly more intelligent and advanced than we are, but we beat them anyway by "ingenuity," plain guts, or exploiting an Achilles' Heel.
  7. A teenage genius discovers an entire new field of science, and builds practical devices that use it, in his bedroom.
  8. The psychological trauma/attitude problem of female character is cured (or at least temporarily relieved) by a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
  9. Persons of different species interbreed without difficulty.
  10. The author lectures the viewer/reader; the lecture takes the form of a Platonic Dialogue between two characters, or of the Cosmic Message from the Ultra-enlightened Aliens to the Great Unwashed Human Masses.
  11. A conspiracy develops, involving lots of people, and remains secret for an extended period of time.
  12. The author attempts to wittily euphemize the phrase "go screw yourself" by referring to it as "a physiologically impossible act".
  13. The availability of firearms notwithstanding, swordfighting returns as a significant method of combat.
  14. A Big Surprise awaits the reader/viewer at the end of the tale:
    1. The Barbaric Society is really post-cataclysmic Western civilization.
    2. The man and woman who flee from a doomed civilization and start rebuilding on the third planet of a medium-sized yellow star are named Adam and Eve.
    3. The alien children, slaves, or pets are really the parents, masters, or owners.
    4. The head of Terran government is a disguised Bad Guy or is under direct control of the Bad Guys.
    5. A major figure in the conflict is really another major figure in disguise.
    6. The Kindly Benevolent Aliens are neither.
    7. The reputedly inhospitable Outdoors is not only inhabitable, but markedly better.
    8. It was all just a dream/game/simulation.
    9. The alien threat was just a hoax to unite humanity.
    10. An ancient civilization was actually founded by space aliens.
    11. A major historical figure (Jesus, Einstein, Lincoln, Elvis) was really a space alien.
    12. The apparently-human leader of the robot/cyborg army is also a robot or cyborg, and this becomes apparent when his/her/its "skin" falls off.
  15. Telepaths use their power to achieve a heightened sexual experience.
  16. Telepaths are regarded as witches or lunatics, and are dealt with accordingly.
  17. Inherited supernatural power (telepathy, lycanthropy, etc.) becomes pronounced at the onset of puberty.
  18. Humans leave for the stars, forget all about Earth, and rediscover it later.
  19. No matter how slowly the monster shambles along, or how quickly the victim runs, the monster is always right behind the victim when she/he trips or encounters an obstacle.
  20. When fleeing danger, females trip over their own shadows while men can sprint without caution.
  21. An alien artifact imbues human(s) with incredible abilities.
  22. A fighter pilot, upon destroying an alien vessel, yells "yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!"
  23. The time traveller helps the future society mellow out by introducing music from his period.
  24. Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening and in the process actually cause the Bad Thing to happen.
  25. Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening; they succeed, but cause something worse to happen.
  26. When a player gets "killed" in a virtual reality simulation, they also die in real life.
  27. A war gets started over a stupid misunderstanding between two sides that otherwise have no reason to fight, and no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
  28. The two opponents in a war have been fighting for so long that they've forgotten how the war got started in the first place, but no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
  29. The two opponents in a war have been fighting for decades/centuries/millenia; the main characters end the war peacefully in a matter of days or hours.
  30. Humans have a special quality that makes us unique, so that even superbeings can learn something from us.
  31. A pet survives the disaster, and is discovered at the end of the story.
  32. So-called elite forces get their butts kicked by a smaller, less well-armed force.
  33. A scientist develops an AI computer system that can understand natural language and draw inductive conclusions from incomplete data, and uses it on projects far less practical and/or profitable than such a computer would be.
  34. Someone gets healed by contact with aliens (often by a laying on of hands).
  35. The greedy businessman refuses to recognize that his dangerous product/service will screw him over long before he can hope to make a profit.
  36. The monster kills/eats the token black guy first.
  37. Explorers are greeted as gods by the natives, who cling to this belief in spite of everything the explorers do and say.
  38. An alien custom throws humans into confusion, even though one or more human cultures share the custom and have followed it for centuries.
  39. Low-brow white male human bar patron of the future spouts bigoted remarks that wouldn't be tolerated today, while protagonists look on in silent dismay at the "dark side" of the human race.
  40. A person's physical impairments vanish when they are possessed by the Alien Entity.
  41. A technologically advanced race conquers a technologically inferior race, and puts them to work doing things that the conqueror's machines can do far more efficiently.
  42. The gang of cute and/or misfit kids rescue the universe, where a large group of competent, organized and well-armed adults failed.
  43. The aliens' plan to exterminate the human race is stopped at the last moment when they notice a human exhibiting some virtue, such as love, humor, etc.
  44. A fellow has Super Powers, but can only use them when he is emotionally agitated.
  45. The protagonists destroy the entire social structure and governmental system of the society they encounter, and only a few old fuddy-duddies complain.
  46. A problem involving an alien is resolved in a manner dependent on the unusual and heretofore-unknown location of the alien's reproductive organs.
  47. The human abdomen is an ideal incubator for Alien Eggs/Spawn, and this has no apparent effect on the host until the Alien Spawn erupts from their stomach in a messy fashion.
  48. No matter how large a ship is, any monster let loose on board will learn its way around in an hour's time, enabling it to sneak up behind its victims without fail.
  49. A female antagonist changes sides after receiving a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
  50. The crewmember who is brainwashed or otherwise subverted into sabotaging/betraying the ship is allowed to return to duty, with no concerns that they remain a security risk.
  51. Resolving the imminent threat to mankind requires that the drunken has-been get sober.
  52. A high-ranking matriarch, in a society that oppresses men, falls for the Hero's rugged charms.
  53. A crewmember has a radical change of personality, but the few people who notice don't seem particularly bothered by it.
  54. Human spies are sent to infiltrate an alien society in order to better understand it.
  55. When the Evil Overlord dies, none of his surviving henchmen move into the power vacuum; instead, his empire collapses.
  56. The Good Guys, after a setback, launch their counterattack with the help of members of a Rastafarian-like culture.
  57. The death of the Bad Guy involves a long fall.
  58. At some point the protagonists must enter a hostile region called The Forbidden Zone.
  59. When the Heroes destroy the computer that runs an entire society, it's considered a good thing for the members of that society.
  60. When an ordinary crewmember transforms into the Enlightened Being of Cosmic Power, he departs the scene instead of staying around to help out his still-human buddies.
  61. A society of humans adopts an artificial means of reproduction (such as cloning), forgets about sex and intimacy, and has to learn about it at some later point.
  62. Any weapon can be picked up and used by anyone, no matter how lacking they are in training and/or upper-body strength.
  63. When defeat is imminent, it is avoided by a strategem, tactic, or weapon that could just as easily been used at the start of the fight.
  64. Away teams going on dangerous missions are comprised of irreplaceable members of the ship's crew, such as the captain, medical chief, chief engineer, etc. Expendable flunkies are left behind to mind the store.
  65. Time travel from the future into modern times winds up in the year of the show's production.
  66. Any class of people having superpowers will be persecuted by normal humanity.
  67. The lowest-ranking members of any mission team are doomed.
  68. A starship captain disobeys a direct order from a superior. When the dust settles, he's still a starship captain.
  69. The episode ends with the two arch-enemies playing a game of chess.
  70. Malignant aliens land in densely-populated regions, and are instantly targeted by a criminal (who is fatally defeated). Benevolent aliens land in the boondocks.
  71. After a remonstration from the Good Guys, the Great Dictator confesses that he was merely trying to keep order, and reforms.
  72. The possessed human exhibits superhuman strength.
  73. The crewman in the leaky spacesuit is rescued with seconds of air to spare.
  74. The stranded heroes come across a crashed space vessel. The ship is returned to a serviceable condition after only a little bit of repair work.
  75. The characters in the distant future are interested in the period of Earth history during which the story was written.
  76. The time-traveler gets only one chance to change the past or the future, instead of repeating the trip as many times as necessary.
  77. In spite of chronic crewmember deaths and a complete lack of new personnel, there is no lack of manpower. Nor is the performance of The Captain called into issue.
  78. Cryogenically frozen people are never thawed on schedule. They are either revived way, way too early or way, way afterwards.
  79. The conquering aliens are dependent on a very rare resource to maintain their empire. Earth has some of it.
  80. Overused time travel cliches:
    1. Travelers to the future get in trouble, and people in the present race against time to save them (which makes no sense since they have at least their own lifetimes to plan the rescue.)
    2. Someone finds a note written by their future selves.
    3. On returning to the present, the travelers find evidence that their trip already happened.
    4. The future keeps getting worse the farther you go.
    5. Even accidental trips to the past never go farther back than the dinosaurs.
    6. The number of ancestors met on a trip to the past is directly correlated to the number of the team sent.
    7. When traveling to the past, you are guaranteed to meet someone the average American aged 18-35 has heard of. Some guaranteed celebrities:
      1. Year 30: Jesus.
      2. 800-1200 AD: King Arthur.
      3. 1600's: Shakespeare.
      4. 1800's: Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle.
      5. 1940: Hitler, Winston Churchill
    8. No matter how far forward or back you go, you always end up in the same geographic spot, ignoring movement of geological plates and Earth itself.
    9. World War III was/will be a historical fact.
    10. Regardless of the time, everybody speaks English and if humans are still the ruling class, Caucasian. Brown people are still poor.
    11. The time you traveled from will be viewed as either a) a land of technological wizardry (for the past,) or b) a shameful time of ignorance, racism, and bigotry (for the future.)
    12. Newspapers you find will always give you the exact date of your arrival, and are usually found within seconds of arriving.
    13. Time travelers, on their first trip, usually have a bubble of safety that prevents their immediate death for at least a day or two.
    14. On trips after the first, it is usual to appear in the middle of a pitched battle or be attacked by natives.
    15. It is impossible to prevent the damage, theft, or energy loss of the time machine. However, two out of the three can never occur simultaneously, e.g. it is never damaged after being stolen.
    16. If the timeline can be changed, it's a comedy.
    17. If the timeline can't be changed, it's a tragedy.
    18. Nobody uses drugs in the future or past.
    19. It is always assumed that "naturally," once time travel is discovered, it will be two-way.
    20. Meeting yourself in the past is always considered "A Very Bad Thing." Rationale will vary though, with a 75% chance of invoking one of the Laws of Thermodynamics. For works after 1991, there is a 50% chance of "the butterfly effect" and/or "chaos theory" being the rationale.
    21. Whenever the heroes have to disguise themselves in Nazi uniforms, they can get away with it as long as they are White even if the actors themselves have features that knowingly fall outside Nordic traits (the Caucasian strain mostly associated with Aryan).
    22. Time travellers from the future who come to our present will always be Fish out of Water allowing for comedic moments. They never bother to research the era's culture to avoid making fools of themselves.
    23. Non-White characters who travel back in time always somehow avoid encountering racial prejudice or even anyone commenting on their race unless the story was written to address the issue of racism.
    24. Time travellers regard the French Revolution as their favorite time period.
    25. Unlike in reality, the English spoken by natives during the European Middle Ages is completely understandable to modern time travellers. It is typically nothing more than modern UK received pronunciation or cockney accents laced with liberal Thees and Thous.
    26. A time traveller will almost always leave an object that is a valued gift or heirloom with someone they meet in a travel to the past. Or they may have to sell it to get money for living expenses in the past. The rationale for parting with the object is always either
      1. They know that it will eventually come into their possession again in the future.
      2. It was always hinted that there was a story behind that object that no one really knew...until now.
  81. Gravity assists being treated as something desperate and unprecedented.


Overused Sci Fi SettingsThe Grand List of Overused Science Fiction ClichésOverused Sci Fi Silly Science

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